Student fightback stops Maths Learning Centre cuts

The Final Change Proposal will see 96 jobs go at Adelaide University, compared to the original figure of 130

Student campaigners at the Maths Learning Centre, Nov 11. Credit: No Adelaide University Cuts.

Adelaide University student representatives have responded with delight at the news that the proposed staff cuts to the Maths Learning Centre will not go ahead.

On Dit reported that in the University’s Draft Change Proposal to make $30 million in annual savings through staff cuts and downsizing, lecturers Nicholas Crouch and Dr David Butler would see one of their roles in the MLC made redundant.

While a university spokesperson has stated that substantive academic staff cuts are “a separate body of work” to be considered in 2022, students were predictably incensed at the news that either Crouch or Butler would need to jockey for the one remaining position. There was widespread concern about inexperienced casuals substituting their practical teaching knowledge.

A petition by student activist James Wood, calling to “Save the Maths Learning Centre”, garnered over 950 signatures in a matter of days as part of the No Adelaide University Cuts (NAUC) campaign. Notably, traditionally non-political clubs like the Adelaide University Engineering Society publicly encouraged their members to sign it.

“There is no substitute for well-experienced and properly resourced permanent staff,” wrote Wood.

“UofA students cannot afford any cuts to the MLC, a crucial service for students not just in the ECMS faculty but everywhere from Psychology to Biology to Economics.

“The No Adelaide University Cuts campaign has received countless testimonies from students stating that they simply would not have passed their courses without support from the amazing MLC staff.”

Students and staff speak out

Following the good news last week, in an all-student email from Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj, Wood said it’s a “fantastic win for the broader campaign against Høj’s cuts and mergers.”

“Hundreds of students flooded management with angry emails and supported the No Adelaide University Cuts campaign’s petition and solidarity photo. The MLC staff too were willing to take a stand and publicly oppose the cuts.

“This win might seem but small, but it should embolden us to fight all of Høj’s cuts agenda. If anything, it should put to rest any fatalism about cuts and prove that opposition can produce wins.”

Butler, who is MLC Coordinator, said he is overwhelmed by the support received from students.

“Basically the DVCA said it was the breadth of feedback from so many students of different disciplines and talking about all our activities that made the difference. She wasn’t fully aware of the fact that the MLC helps people other than in first year maths, and other than in the drop-in centre. But of course it’s so much more!”

A university spokesperson said that UofA has “conceded some key structural changes” based on the feedback received over the last few months:

  • “The reduction in positions will now be 96, compared with 104 in the original proposal.
  • The changes which had been proposed to the Maths Learning Centre will not proceed, resulting in no substantive change to the current arrangements;
  • The Environment Institute will be retained as a stand-alone research institute;
  • Processes for filling new roles have been modified to maximise the opportunity for staff displaced by the changes to secure new roles and to enhance transparency and equitability.”

However, the No Adelaide University Cuts campaign has called for Høj and other executives to take pay cuts to their “bloated salaries.” South Australian Greens MP Robert Simms has tabled legislation which would cap the state’s Vice-Chancellors’ salaries to that of the Premier, or roughly $400k.

In a statement, NAUC said they won’t stop until they “defeat every one of management’s attacks.”

“This victory should give us more confidence to defeat all of Høj’s slash and burn cuts agenda and dispel ideas that the total corporatisation of our university is inevitable.”

VC warns of hard times ahead

In a statement to On Dit, Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj said the challenges facing the higher education sector “will impact on us for years to come.”

“I appreciate this comes at the end of a very challenging two years for staff at the University of Adelaide, and the measures we’re putting in place have been taken reluctantly. I would like to personally thank all of the staff for the feedback they have provided on the change proposal, and for engaging with the change process so constructively.

“The University of Adelaide is an institution of which I am proud, as is our community… Our unique place in the community has helped to shape our state over almost 150 years.

“It is my belief that these changes will help us to continue making a difference, both to individuals and to our wider community. By implementing these measures now, our University will become more financially sustainable and better positioned for a stronger future, for the benefit of our community and the state.”

The Australian higher education sector was hit hard by COVID-19, with new international enrolments down by 17% in semester 1 of this year compared to 2020. Professor Høj said the university’s financial position for 2020 “fell well short of its initial targeted revenue projections.”

As part of university downsizing, the ECMS and Science faculties will be merged from next year, as well as Arts and Professions.

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